Monday, July 12, 2010

How did he originally pitch Moby Dick?

In a world where most books are mostly not written unless you have a place to submit it, imagine pitching Moby Dick to a publisher.

This blogger, Rhiannon Paine, has imagined that pitch. The following is reprinted by permission of the author from So after reading this, ask yourself if it makes any sense. Sometimes I think Melville just rambled. I know he was trying to be ambitious but...a chapter on chowder??

Herman Melville pitches Moby-Dick
June 5th, 2010

As I blog, tweet, and work on a synopsis for my novel Fall Crush, I wonder how writers in earlier ages would have fared with the social media.

Suppose Thomas Hardy had been required to pitch The Mayor of Casterbridge. “When Michael Henchard sells his wife and daughter after too much rum-laced furmity, he can’t expect it to go well. But, surprise! He becomes a mayor and prosperous grain-merchant with a mistress named Lucette, only to lose it all and die (the furmity again). In a clever grain-merchant-related touch, he requests that ‘no flours be planted on my grave’.”

Sale? I think not.

Or consider what a Twitter stream might have looked like between Herman Melville and his publisher, Richard Bentley. For the sake of brevity – not a point that ever troubled Melville – I’ve omitted all but the first two @ directives, but they’ve been accounted for in the sacred sum of 140.

HerMel @RBentley Excellent news, Bentley. A notion for my next book has at last taken possession of me.

RBentley @HerMel Capital. Another “cakes and ale” tale, a sequel to “White-Jacket”! “Yellow-Jacket?” No, that’s an insect. What say you to “Blue-Jacket”?

HerMel No, no, this is more ambitious. The front matter is replete with quotations, and I define “whale” in several languages.

RBentley Do you? Why?

HerMel The book is about one man’s quest to kill a ferocious white sperm whale.

RBentley Ha ha ha! You wrote “ferocious white sperm whale”! Doubtless you meant “lion,” “tiger,” or “bear.”

HerMel No, it’s definitely a sperm whale.

RBentley Oh my.

RBentley Herman? Are you there?

HerMel #amwriting My narrator’s in bed with a purple-faced tattooed harpooner named Queequeg. He sells embalmed heads on the side.

RBentley The narrator?

HerMel No, Queequeg. Social realism. Points up how precarious finances can be for purple-faced tattooed South Sea Islander harpoonists.

RBentley Quite. That should help to capture that all-important market.

HerMel The point hadn’t occurred to me, but you’re probably right.

RBentley I was being sarcastic.

HerMel Outlining. A chapter on the history of the fishing industry … a chapter on chowder … two Quakers and a prophet named Elijah …

RBentley Is Elijah the man who’s trying to kill the whale?

HerMel No, that’s Captain Ahab. We don’t meet him until – let me see – Chapter XXVIII.

RBentley But isn’t he the main character?

HerMel Well, him and the whale. Did I mention he’s only got one leg?

RBentley *fans self with sheet of paper* It’s news to me that whales HAVE legs.

HerMel AHAB has one leg. Moby Dick bit the other one off. So he wants to kill it, but it kills him, the ship sinks, & they all drown.

RBentley All?

HerMel Yes.

RBentley Including the narrator?

HerMel Yes.

HerMel Oh.

HerMel Epilogue. Narrator gets picked up by passing albatross … pushed ashore by dolphin … finds life-preserver … something.

RBentley Lives to tell the tale.

HerMel Exactly.

HerMel So what do you think? Are you as excited as I am?

RBentley Herman. Herman, Herman, Herman.

HerMel Yes?

RBentley A SPERM whale named DICK?

HerMel I know! And subliminal advertising hasn’t even been invented yet!

RBentley Genius.

“Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

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